Thursday, March 01, 2012

Nashville among 40 cities with highest percentage of poverty

According to data published recently in the New York Times, Nashville is listed among the 40 US cities with highest poverty. It is 33rd. Among its "peer" cities (that is those we regularly see it compared it to) also among the 40, here is how it compares:

St. Louis, MO 27.8%
Memphis, TN 26.5%
Atlanta, GA 26.1%
Denver, CO 21.6%
Indianapolis, IN 21.1%
Nashville, TN 20.8%
Austin, TX 20.8%
Kansas City, MO 20.4%
Greensboro, NC 20.1%

While Nashville is 17 percentage points lower than Detroit, the most impoverished city, it is still 5 percentage points higher than the national rate of poverty.

One of Nashville's indicators of our city's answer for lowering the poverty rate, public education, is at present driven by market models of reform. Public schools are being privatized as charter schools and being flipped to private boards of directors. Others are being reorganized into "academies" influenced by individual CEOs. The current climate does not invite discussions of the impact of poverty on school performance or Metro solutions to mitigating the impact.

Instead, under the influence of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, a special interest group that enjoys direct access to MNPS administration, the focus is on the test scores of public schools as the strict measure of performance. The Nashville Chamber is not just a lobby group, but a lobby group that has received hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to subsidize its influence.

But the Chamber is so focused on selling its product, Nashville, that considering the problem of poverty will not fit into it's latest marketing strategy "Business is good." Given the numbers on poverty, marketing strategies for fixing public education seem more like a Chamber-serving diversion, but if I were in charge of their marketing wizardry, I would tweak it a bit for the sake of realism.

Adapted for truth in advertising. Hence, not likely to be seen on billboards.

Nashville's latest showing in the poverty stats could be much worse, but it is not where it should be, either. In an era of increasing income disparity, relocating businesses or economically booming bigger than other cities will not reverse our poverty rate. It will not close up cracks that poor people slip through. Instead, the greater wealth generated will be hoarded at the top, not spread around to give more people access to opportunity.

UPDATE: The Urban Institute finds that income inequality in the States grows:

In the past several decades, income inequality in the United States has increased dramatically. Over the same period, year-to-year variation in individual incomes—or income volatility—has increased more modestly, while Americans’ economic mobility—movements up or down the economic ladder—has changed little.

Inequality and equality can take many forms: equality of opportunity is desirable, but equality of outcomes (like money income) might not be, if the inequality motivates entrepreneurial activity and hard work that benefit society as a whole. Some advocate focusing not on income inequality but on poverty.

On the other hand, the greatest increases in inequality have come at the top, with implications for policy and politics, as most of the country’s resources are concentrated in fewer hands. Tax policy, asset-building policy, and policies directly affecting low-income working families are among the most salient levers.


  1. Talking about poverty without talking about the disfunction in the family is missing the forest for the trees. Children residing in households headed by a single mother are probably 5 times as likely to be in poverty as children living with two parents.

    We are told over and over that parental involvment is integral to the success of a school and to the success of children in school. It stands to reason that family status plays a big part in the success of schools.

    I get that this blog focuses on certain issues and has not focused on others. But, public schools are a secondary or teritiary aspect in helping people escape from poverty. And, frankly, a school's job is to educate.

    1. Nice begging the question, Anonymous.

      As if "to educate" has a hardened, unequivocal, unqualifiable definition that is self-evident in its utterance.

      "A schools job is to educate". Don't bother unpacking, Comrade Tractatus. It might lead to slipping down your own slopes.

  2. If I left out the last sentence of my prior post, does that mean we agree?